Outdated misconceptions of special education have led to a cultural reluctance to embrace educational intervention strategies, often associating services with intellectual limitations. The reality is that special education programs are increasingly important solutions for many children in California public schools. Embracing special education for students with disabilities and other learning needs can help children succeed in school and beyond.

Since the seventies, federal law has required public schools to provide special education services to students with disabilities. Physician diagnoses, or educational data from classwork, evaluations, and testing contribute to identifying students who may struggle academically, allowing schools to initiate services and resources to aid in individualized support.

In many cases, parents or teachers are the first to identify if a student might benefit from special education services. Understanding the importance of special education programs and how to advocate for your child’s educational needs are essential to their success as a student.

Understanding special education programs in California public schools – what you need to know:

Key Special Education Laws

Several federal and state laws have been developed to protect the rights of students with disabilities and ensure they have the same access to learning opportunities as their peers and do not face discrimination.

  • The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA) of 1975 guarantees a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for every child with a disability in the United States.
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act mandates nondiscrimination for people with disabilities in education and other programs including vocational settings that are recipients of federal funds.
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), passed in 1990, articulates the rights of students with disabilities and the services they must be provided in elementary and secondary school. IDEA requires schools to work with families to develop Individualized Education Plans (IEP) for all students with disabilities detailing the students’ specific needs, services, and accommodations.
  • The California Education Code outlines the rights of students with disabilities in the state explaining the “due process” families can follow if they believe their child is not receiving a free and appropriate education, is facing discrimination, or if the parent disagrees with the services the school provides.

Benefits of Special Education Programs

Once a student is determined eligible for special education services, school administrators, teachers, and parents will meet to discuss the child’s specific learning goals and develop the best services and accommodations to help them reach those goals. The IEP is a document that details learning targets and the steps the school will take to implement strategies and track growth. Services and accommodations vary by student depending on their specific needs but generally offer a range of benefits including:

  • Individualized support and instruction
  • Small class or group sizes
  • Curated content geared toward student interests
  • Skill-building
  • Access to specialized staff/therapists
  • Building trust and confidence

Inclusion Over Isolation

Special education programs aim to remove learning barriers by providing students with the tools and resources to succeed with and among their peers. This is generally reflected in how administrators, teachers, and aids deliver an accessible education to support a student within the classroom environment rather than remove the student from a whole-class setting.

Special education programs range widely depending on individual student needs. Most students will remain in the general education classroom and receive accommodations based on what teachers and parents decide will be the best course of action in the student’s IEP. Depending on the needs of the student, accommodations may include:

  • Preferential seating
  • Educational aide
  • Behavioral plan
  • Technological support for students who are vision or hearing-impaired
  • Extended time on classwork or tests
  • Graphic or visual aids
  • Small group instruction

Early Intervention & Parent Involvement

Early intervention of a learning disability is critical to help a child gain access to services as soon as possible. As a parent, you can work with your child’s teachers to seek an evaluation as early as preschool. Following diagnosis or evaluation, parent involvement is instrumental in ensuring your child continues to see growth through the services provided.

Annual IEP meetings provide parents with an opportunity to discuss their child’s learning objectives, services, and growth with their education team, but parents may request a team meeting at any time they feel necessary. Maintaining documentation and records, and asking questions will help parents contribute to the accuracy of their child’s learning program and allow them to advocate for their child’s needs.

“Every child is different and has individualized needs that must be met by the public school system. Planning and advocacy are required by parents for children to fully benefit from the special education programs available to students who qualify. It is my mission to support as many families as possible as they navigate the process and help set their child up for success.”
-Jennifer Chang, Education Rights Attorney

The Role of an Education Rights Attorney

As a parent, navigating your child’s rights in school can be challenging. While education seems straightforward, many legal nuances govern the steps to seek action if your child is not receiving the educational support he or she is entitled to under federal education laws.

Typically, parents will seek help from an education rights attorney under two circumstances: either their child’s school decided the child is not eligible for services and they are looking for guidance in bringing an independent assessment to the district, or the child’s family is in disagreement with the school district about services and accommodations the school is providing or is willing to offer the child.

Education Rights Attorney Jennifer Chang works to protect students with disabilities and ensure they receive access to the services they are entitled to in California schools under FAPE. Additionally, she works with students and their families to address and resolve allegations and disciplinary actions stemming from mishandled manifestations of disabilities.

Contact an Education Rights Attorney

California special education laws protect students’ rights to a safe and positive education. When school districts do not uphold these rights, trust The Law Offices of Jennifer Chang to fight vigorously against the school districts and personnel acting negligently or without care for individual students.

Contact Jennifer Chang today to schedule a case assessment at one of her California offices in Los Angeles, Buena Park, and San Jose.